Thousands of Japanese, who were evacuated from their island homes nearly four-years ago will soon be allowed to return, despite continuing volcanic activity.

Residents of Miyake Island were told they will likely be allowed to go home early next year. They had to abandon their homes in September of 2000 after months of eruptions on Mount Oyama at the center of the island, which lies about 180-kilometers south of Tokyo.

Since then, most of the nearly 4,000 residents of Miyake Island were given shelter in apartments in the Japanese capital.

Miyake Village Mayor Sukeyasu Hirano says that despite the rent-free accommodations they enjoyed in Tokyo, the islanders want to go back home. Mayor Hirano officially informed Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara that the people of Miyake Island plan to begin returning home next January or February.

Governor Ishihara gave his reluctant approval. The governor warned that Mount Oyama continues to spew volcanic gas, and he said the government could not take responsibility for the health of returning residents if they suffer from inhaling sulfur dioxide from the volcano.

Residents have been allowed to return to the island for occasional short visits to check on their homes and farms, but the area was deemed too dangerous for longer-term habitation.

Authorities say if the islanders go back they will have to carry gas masks at all times.

In a recent survey, nearly two-thirds of the islanders said that despite the risks they want to go home.

One woman says she is a bit worried about the volcanic gas, but she says she just really misses her island home and will be happy to go back.